America's criminal justice system has been broken since its inception. Sadly it has morphed into nothing more than a talking point for election hopefuls in the hierarchy of government. From Stop & Frisk procedures based on the Broken Windows Theory to the privatization of prisons, the system has proven to be most beneficial to those of Caucasian descent. Don't even get me started on the lack of jail time and convictions against police officers slaying our dear brothers and sisters.
Steps on how some of these imperfect practices could get fixed, at the local and highest levels, have been discussed. But that's the problem: for the most part, they've only been discussed. Serious reform by implementing new practices could have saved the life of Kalief Browder and many others like him. A backlogged court docket wouldn't have been so clogged if there weren't as many frivolous cases to deal with.
I was a Criminal Justice major in college and took a class - Race & Policing - that has stayed with me all these years later. Although I went to a PWI in Pennsylvania, the class was mostly filled with Black and Hispanic students from New York and New Jersey. The topic of Stop & Frisk led the lecture one day and my professor conducted somewhat of a social experiment: "raise your hand if you've ever been stopped and frisked." About 80% of the students, mine included, rose their hand. Not a single White hand left their desk. The professor then asked a few kids about their experience with Stop & Frisk, a practice that is now "illegal."
One of the students, who had shoulder-length dreads, said he'd been subjected to it 15 times during his four years of high school in New York. Searched 15 times. In four years. Not once did he have anything illegal on his person. He was just chillin' in the park with his friends. Yet because of appearance alone, it was automatically assumed that he was a person capable of committing a crime. Stereotyping is a foul truth that could have led to a flagrantly fatal outcome in that situation. Internal prejudice, which led to the officer(s) targeting that young Black man, is one of trickiest things to deal with due to its concealed nature.
Agendas can be felt, racist patterns can be noticed, but they hardly lead to convictions due to lack of tangible evidence. Sostarts the vicious cycle of this flawed Criminal Justice system that has kept Black people disenfranchised for decades, with incremental improvements. How are we supposed to trust an entity that should have an unbiased opinion towards conflict resolution? At the moment, as minorities, it's skeptical to place our entire trust in a system that's rampant with Implicit Biases from top to bottom.
Implicit Bias is one of the more impressionable phrases that I learned during my time in that classroom. It's summed up by the following:
"Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people."
[The] tendency for stereotype-confirming thoughts to pass spontaneously through our minds is what psychologists call implicit bias. It sets people up to overgeneralize, sometimes leading to discrimination even when people feel they are being fair.
To paraphrase an example of this from my professor: take a reasonably-sensed kid from Kansas who has never left the Midwest in his 18 years of life. He may have a handful of friends who are minorities but for the most part, his existence - from the music he consumes to the friends, family, and other locals he interacts with - is a predominately White one. He could come from a good Christian home with wholesome morals, but his only exposure to minorities are not through real-life interactions.
Instead, the news, movies, TV shows and various other mediums shape that kid's unreasonable perception - unreasonable because Black people often inaccurately play thugs and criminals on screen, unreasonable because the lead of the 11 o'clock news is usually a horrific crime in the inner city. Sure, mugshots of White people make the news for committing crimes. Being able to discern between good and bad is easy when you've been exposed to a certain demographic for all your life.
Fast forward a few years after going to a local community college, the kid wants to jump right into the police force and make a difference...in the big city. Not Wichita, but New York City. Intentions may be pure on the surface, but his final judgment may be clouded by his Implicit Bias, whether he is aware of it or not.
His initial reaction when diffusing a crisis situation with a Person of Color may not be as nuanced as it would be when facing someone that resembles him. Fear plus bias - intentional or unconscious - leads to an end result that wasn't made from a close to neutral perspective. That Person of Color, if they're lucky enough to avoid something fatal, will then get placed in a system where they're set up to fail.
The public perception of rappers that come from the streets is drawn from similar stereotypes: aggressive, menacing, and forever incapable of doing anything good in society. When that archaic way of thinking is at the forefront for the people who affirm convictions or set the parameters for parole and probation, how are we supposed to make any progress in the name of actual justice? Shouldn't the rehabilitation of the individual be the most important thing?
Instead, like in the high-profile case of Meek Mill, punitive charges continue to accrue for minor violations of parole under ridiculous conditions.
In 2008, per the Philly.com chronology:
10 years after his arrest - by an officer whose name appeared on a DA's list of "two dozen police officers with an alleged history of lying, racial bias, brutality or abuse of power to block them from testifying in court again" - Meek is still entrenched in his legal battles, all because of violations of his parole, with conditions being set by a Judge whose credibility is far from stainless. Conditions like barring him from having concerts outside of Philadelphia, feels like a calculated move that does nothing but hurt his career and livelihood. The main source of revenue for musicians in the modern age comes from touring; setting that parameter was a direct shot to Meek's legal hustle. Counterproductive to say the least.
From the reports surrounding this case and accusations from Meek's legal team, personal emotions and personal influence have entered a space that's supposed to be neutral and without bias. One would think a that a Judge of color would have sympathy for an individual who was born into a less than ideal environment, made mistakes, and is desperately trying to move on from that period of his life. But no, making an example out of him was the more pressing issue for Brinkley.
From accomplished vets that never received the proper rehabilitation (DMX) to young stars certainly on the rise before they reached their pinnacle (Max B in 2009; Bobby Shmurda in 2016), slight to major career derailments due to criminal charges is a sad reality that happens all too often in hip-hop. Recently, one of the brightest stars in ascension unfairly fell victim to a similar fate.
In April 2018, the highly talented and innovative native of Watts 03 Greedo was sentenced to 20 years in jail for possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.
The judicial system's goal here is not to punish the individual for the crime they committed, with the hopes of correcting his way of thinking which led to his errors. The goal is to make an example of the stereotypical perception of a rapper, strongly influenced by a historically corrupt and racist Police Department. While the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, murders that were captured on camera, resulted in zero amount of jail time, Greedo was facing the possibility of a 300-year sentence. We know and have known where the priorities lie from one of America's most dangerous gangs. For fans, it's tough to deal with an artist's incarceration because that means a lack of new music or tours to follow.
That's completely meaningless when the impact of the truly devastating blow is felt by personal friends and most importantly, their immediate family members.
The Criminal Justice System has long been a disruptive force in the lives of Black families across the United States due to old practices and snail-like movement towards progress. That problem is heightened with other factors; from overt and implicit racial bias by County Sheriffs to "Honorable" Court officials *allegedly* abusing their powers, the odds are stacked up against African Americans. On top of all that, you are a rapper, a profession that seemingly gets national discussion only when something bad happens. With all of that combined, how are they ever supposed to make a proper attempt at redemption? The playing field is uneven, but there is a glimmer of hope.
In his interview with Angie Martinez, Meek Mill said that he's not "gonna be the next Martin Luther King [Jr.]," but he is aware of the power of his platform and will use it to help benefit the fight for lasting Criminal Justice reform. He won't be alone in this renewed battle. Larry Krasner, the new Philadelphia District Attorney who was "a defense attorney representing activists from Black Lives Matter and the Occupy movement" prior to being elected will surely be an advocate and ally of Meek's. Roc Nation in partnership with Amazon, are creating a docu-series with Meek that will shed some light on the ills of the current Criminal Justice system.
Fixes won't happen overnight, but steps are being taken to help correct the problem. It is a group effort; no matter how poor or rich or "regular" or famous you are, we all can contribute. Get out there and vote; changes start at the local level. The new Philly DA is proof that elections can be important and beneficial to the community when the right experienced official gets elected. Join a group an advocacy group to make your voice heard. Do something. The system has been historically unfair; it's about time to tip the scales of justice for good.